Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney today accused President Barack Obama of bowing to global adversaries and promised, if elected, to boost America’s military strength by expanding the Navy and missile defenses.
Romney, 64, presented his national security vision in a speech set against a backdrop of grey-uniformed cadets at The Citadel, a military academy in Charleston, South Carolina. South Carolina has a traditionally pro-military Republican base, and carrying the early primary state is important to winning the party’s nomination.
“America must lead the world, or someone else will,” Romney said, reprising the argument from his 2010 book, “No Apology,” that U.S. military strength and leadership are essential to deterring tyrants and keeping world peace. “In an American century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world.”
Romney pledged in his first 100 days, if elected, to boost naval shipbuilding, deploy Navy carriers to deter Iran’s suspected military ambitions, increase intelligence cooperation with Israel, review military and aid spending in Afghanistan and invest heavily in missile defense and cybersecurity.
Romney’s speech, as well as his remarks yesterday aboard a World War II aircraft carrier in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, repeatedly said Obama is slashing defense spending and is gutting missile defense, assertions that are contradicted by official data.
President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign responded that Romney failed to address key security goals, such as defeating al-Qaeda. Romney showed “once again that he is willing to say anything, regardless of the facts, to get elected,” said campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt in an e- mail.
According to government figures, military spending has increased under Obama. Total Defense Department budget authority for non-war and war spending increased 3.6 percent from fiscal year 2009 to 2010, according to Pentagon budget data. Obama requested $708 billion in budget authority for war and non-war spending in fiscal 2011, an increase of 2.5 percent. Obama’s fiscal 2012 request was to keep core Pentagon spending about level, while the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq decreased.
Congressional Defense Cuts
Two months ago, Congress passed legislation to cut the Pentagon’s spending request over the next decade as part of the deficit reduction plan demanded by Republicans in Congress. That doesn’t mean reducing actual defense spending; rather, increases may not keep pace with previous plans. Congress hasn’t finished the spending bill for fiscal 2012, which began Oct. 1.
Romney didn’t acknowledge that Obama has ramped up military and Central Intelligence Agency attacks against the nation’s top terrorist threat, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including the raid in which American SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He also didn’t mention the role of U.S. military superiority within the NATO alliance -- providing Tomahawk cruise missiles, drones, and intelligence-gathering aircraft -- in driving Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi from power without any American casualties.
Romney’s biggest applause lines in his half-hour speech included his pledge to “never apologize” for the U.S. -- a broadside against Obama, who he said has kowtowed to adversaries -- and his promise to “reserve the right to act alone to protect our vital national interests,” another critique of the president for seeking consensus on deterring global threats.
The former Massachusetts governor, a front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination, yesterday released a list of foreign policy advisers, including many who served former President George W. Bush and advocated the invasion of Iraq. Several prominent advisers had supported so-called enhanced interrogation techniques or rendition of terrorism suspects to third countries, including former State Department counter- terrorism coordinator Cofer Black, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.
Standing beneath a giant banner emblazoned with his slogan “Believe in America,” and flanked by the U.S. and South Carolina flags, Romney promised to “reverse the hollowing of our Navy” and increase naval shipbuilding from nine to approximately 15 ships annually and sustain the carrier fleet at 11, while investing more in missile defense systems and cybersecurity.
Aboard the USS Yorktown yesterday, Romney called for reinforcing the Navy and Air Force and adding 100,000 active duty troops to reduce battlefield rotations.
One U.S. service member costs the government $100,000 per year on average, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, meaning Romney’s plan would cost $10 billion per year, or $100 billion over 10 years. His campaign has said Romney would pay for such increases by finding and cutting waste in the budget.
Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama for scrapping a plan to locate ground-based missile defense systems in Poland the Czech Republic, in part because of strident opposition from Russia. That plan was replaced by a ship-based system, still in development, that Defense Department officials said would more agile.
Obama, at the recommendation of then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, cut funding for the ground-based U.S. missile shield in the 2010 budget and instead increased support for sea- based systems. The Missile Defense Agency’s budget declined to $7.9 billion in fiscal year 2010 from $9 billion the previous year. It has since grown to $8.5 billion in 2011 and the agency is seeking $8.6 billion for fiscal 2012 budget.
Romney also vowed to position a naval carrier task force in the eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf region as a deterrent to Iran’s suspected nuclear ambitions. The U.S., its European allies and Israel say Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is for civilian energy use and medical research.
Romney proposed increasing military and intelligence coordination and assistance with Israel as a hedge against Iran, and will make a national ballistic-missile defense system a priority.
“The United States will apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict,” he said. “The United States should always retain military supremacy to deter would-be aggressors and to defend our allies and ourselves.”
The Obama campaign said that “Governor Romney raised real questions about his capacity to lead this country and wage the fight against terrorism.”
“He didn’t outline a strategy to strengthen America’s security and promote our interests and didn’t even identify defeating al-Qaeda as a goal,” said LaBolt. “President Obama has degraded al-Qaeda and dealt huge blows to its leadership, including eliminating Osama Bin Laden, ended the war in Iraq, promoted our security in Afghanistan while winding down our commitment in a responsible way and strengthened American leadership around the world.”
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